BWW Feature: Interview with the Three Leading Ladies of CHARLESTON LIGHT OPERA GUILD'S Production of MAMMA MIA!
The Charleston Light Opera Guild (CLOG) is set to take over The Clay Center theater with their production of Mamma Mia! The show, which opens this weekend, is a jukebox musical set to the catchy songs of 70's Swedish band ABBA.
For those unfamiliar with the sensation that is Mamma Mia! Here's a quick summary:
Sophie, a 20-year-old living on the Greek island of Kalokairi, is set to marry her fiancé, Sky. Sophie desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle, though there's a problem - she isn't sure who her father is. Sophie discovers her mother Diana's old diary and after reading about her mother's various exploits, decides that her father must be one of three men; Sam, Harry or Bill. She mails invitations to her wedding to all three - pretending to be Donna - convinced she will know which one is her father as soon as she sees him. Meanwhile, Donna meets up with her two best friends Tanya and Rosie - both of whom were once members of the girl group aptly named "Donna and the Dynamos" - and the three women spend their time discussing their lives, men and the future while dreaming about days long gone. Sophie's plan falters as upon meeting the men she still cannot tell which of them might be her father. To make matters worse she has to struggle to hide their presence from her mom, despites the men's insistence on speaking with her. What follows is a funny, often heartwarming musical with lavish dance numbers, hilarious dialogue and memorable characters.
I spoke with three of the stars of CLOG'S Mamma Mia! production; Rudi Arrowood, Julie Miller and Emily Capece, about their thoughts on the show, the rehearsal process, why the show's message is needed in today's world and how they feel portraying the infamous "Donna and the Dynamos" on stage!
Question: What character do you play in Mamma Mia and why is your character important to the overall plot?
"I play Tanya, she is 1/3rd of The World's First Girl Power Band - Donna & The Dynamos," explained Rudi Arrowood. "Tanya is the lifelong best friend of the lead, Donna. Tanya definitely helps bring out the wild side of Donna. (She) constantly brings up that, while flirting and relationships with members of the opposite sex can be fun, all women should still embrace their independence and live life to the fullest on their own terms."
"I play Rosie, one of the three Dynamos," explained Julie Miller. "My character is one of Donna's two best friends."
"I play Donna," added Emily Capece, "whose daughter Sophie questions which one of Donna's old flames is her real father."
Question: Do you identify with your character and do you agree with their actions throughout the show?
"I sometimes identify with my character," said Miller, adding, "but I wish I was more like her! She is really outgoing and self-assured. I wish I was."
Arrowood identifies with her character as well, despite a few differences between their personalities. "I love her strong independence; however, Tanya is a little more wild than I would ever be." Like Miller, Arrowood wishes she could be a bit more like her character. "I wish I had her confidence. She's comfortable in her own skin and can poke fun at her past mistakes. I love her feistiness!"
"Donna is the kind of woman who lives in the moment," explained Capece. "She's the life of the party, but is quick to anger, to cry, to jump to conclusions. I admire how emotional she is. She truly wears her heart on her sleeve." Capece admits that the wide range of emotions her character deals with throughout the production helps keep the character interesting. "(Donna) is a fun role to play because one moment I'm on stage giggling and shaking my booty and the next moment I'm in tears."
Question: Were you a fan of Mamma Mia (the play or the movie) before auditioning?
"I have very few bucket list roles I want to play," explained Arrowood. "As I've aged, being a Dynamo fell into my bucket list. I dreamt of wearing those disco jumpsuits and now I get to do just that!"
"I loved the movie and musical before I auditioned," added Miller. "It was part of why I did audition. I've watched the movie several times and it never gets old."
Unlike the others, Capece wasn't exactly a fan - at least not at first. "I wasn't a huge fan of the movie but grew up loving the music of ABBA. I was in high school when ABBA Gold was released and we were all singing Knowing Me, Knowing You as we drove around town and dancing to Dancing Queen at school dances." This nostalgia was a huge reason as to why Capece enjoyed tackling the role of Donna. "That's also the time when Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus's musical Chess became popular again," added Capece, referring to the musical created by members of ABBA alongside Tim Rice. "So, all of us high school theater nerds obsessively listened to that show."
Question: What challenges have you faced while preparing for this role?
"I think the biggest challenge for this show is how quick it goes and how busy we are," said Miller. "Everyone sings in just about every song and there is a lot of choreography."
Arrowood agrees. "Choreography is always a challenge for me, but the high-octane dance numbers while singing have been even tougher! Last year I had whooping cough and was diagnosed with asthma, so my breath control isn't what it used to be. On top of that, I've never sung alto in my life." Despite these setbacks, Arrowood has embraced the challenge and stepped up for the role. "Playing Tanya has made me embrace that brassy lower range character singing. It's been a fun challenge."
"The rehearsal period for this show has been extremely short, we've had to learn everything quickly," explained Capece. "It takes a while to settle into a character and speeding up that process has been challenging." Capece also had to warm her voice up to handle Donna's vocal range. "Donna is in the lower part of my singing range, which feels very different from my normal musical theater singing." Hardships aside, Capece is still happy to be in the production. "I love to explore this contrast and appreciate the challenge."
Question: What message do you think Mamma Mia is hoping to convey to audiences?
Capece spoke passionately about the show and its message. "This production is so needed right now. It's cold. It's grey. Our government is in crisis - it's so easy to get sucked into the stress of our daily lives. Mamma Mia takes you away from all reality into a joyful and ridiculous story that is all heart - and who doesn't want that? Audiences will be singing and dancing in their seats! I think it will be an awesome gift of reprieve from reality."
"(Mamma Mia) drives home that family isn't just blood. Family is those you have surrounded yourself with and love," explained Arrowood.
Miller agreed, stating that, "I think Mamma Mia's main message is that there isn't one definition of family out there and that friends are everything!"
Arrowood explained that most of all, the show is supposed to be fun.
"This show is just an escape into the non-sensical. It's a crazy storyline but, man, the music is just so great," boasted Arrowood. She explained how many originally expected the show to fail. "When this show premiered on Broadway, critics were expected to rip it apart. Instead, they loved it, because it was an escape from reality and a chance to just have a rockin' good time for a couple hours." The sense of fun the show brings has helped Arrowood in her personal life. "I've had a lot of personal trials lately, and I can attest to the fact that, when I step on the stage, it all disappears. You can't help but smile!"
While the show is universal enough to appeal to most everyone, ABBA fans are in for the biggest treat.
"Audiences can expect every single popular ABBA song there is," said Miller. "It is a fun, crazy, toe-tapping show."
Arrowood said that audiences should expect to, "get up and dance. At the end of the musical, it turns into a concert-like atmosphere. We encourage people to get up, sing along and embrace their inner-Travolta with us."
Question: Do you have a favorite moment/musical number?
Miller said hers, "is the huge mega mix at the end! It's like a concert with the best songs."
Likewise, Arrowood also enjoys the end mega mix. "it's hard to compete with our Dancing Queen and Waterloo closers. They're just a blast!"
Arrowood did mention a few moments, aside from the ending, that stand out to her and took time to praise one of her co-stars as well. "I love my Does Your Mother Know number with all the fellas onstage. They make me feel like Cleopatra. But I also love when our lead, Emily, slows things down and sings Slipping Through My Fingers and Winner Takes All. She is so incredibly talented."
Capece's favorite scene also happens to be one of the scenes Arrowood mentioned. "Right now, I'm really loving my scene with my daughter Sophie. She puts her wedding dress on for the first time and I spend the scene's song (Slipping Through My Fingers) reflecting on a time when she was a child and needed me. Anyone can put themselves in the place of a child wanting independence or a parent having to say goodbye. I get choked up every night thinking about my own growing children!"
In parting, the ladies of Donna and the Dynamos had a few words for potential audience members.
"Don't wait to get your tickets!" warned Arrowood. "We are expecting big crowds because this is the perfect show for everyone. It's great for kids who have seen the movie, it's awesome to hear that disco-era music if you grew up with ABBA and it's the perfect Girls Night Out show. There's something for everybody."
Miller emphasizes that the show is meant to be fun and wants audiences to participate. "Come ready to have fun! Don't be afraid to sing along!"
Mamma Mia! Production Information
Venue: Maier Performance Hall located in The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. 1 Clay Square, Charleston, WV 25301
Performance Dates: January 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th, 2019 at 7:30 PM and January 20th and 27th, 2019 at 2:00 PM
Tickets: Clay Center Box Office. Tickets range from $28.50 to $33.50.